‘Crown Prince’: Was Merkel’s Bavaria visit an endorsement for her successor?

Chancellor Angela Merkel's visit to Bavaria and the tour given by state premier Söder have fueled speculation she was tacitly endorsing him as her potential successor.

'Crown Prince': Was Merkel's Bavaria visit an endorsement for her successor?
Söder and Merkel speaking together in Bavaria. Photo: DPA

It looked almost like a coronation ceremony: a tour of the ornate palace, a horse-drawn carriage, even adoring citizens waving, one with a poster that said “Markus Söder chancellor candidate”.

READ ALSO: IN PICTURES: Merkel receives royal treatment during visit to Bavaria

This despite his belonging to a smaller sister party of her conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) that has never claimed the top executive job.

The sumptuous surroundings of Herrenchiemsee Palace — built to ape France's Versailles Palace and later where Germany's post-World War II constitution was drafted — only fired the rumour mill despite both politicians' claims to the contrary.

“You know I'm not running again next year… I have committed myself to particular reticence on the question of my successor,” Merkel told reporters after meeting with the Bavarian cabinet.

Nevertheless, she added that “Bavaria has a good state premier” after ticking off a string of international challenges Germany will tackle in its six-month presidency of the European Union that the pair had discussed.

More crucially, Merkel did not slap down the suggestion that her conservative bloc could field a candidate from the CSU rather than her CDU for Germany's top job.

From Shrek to Gandalf

Hours earlier, the 53-year-old Bavarian premier had coyly declined to sign the “Markus Söder chancellor candidate” banner, saying doing so “would only create trouble”.

He described Merkel's visit as “a sign of us reconciling after a few difficult years” that had seen his CSU frequently squabble with senior CDU allies, especially over immigration.

Söder, known for wearing elaborate costumes during carnival season including those of fictitious characters Shrek and Gandalf, is now in Germans' favour owing to his management of the coronavirus crisis.

Latest surveys show 52 percent would like Söder to be Germany's next chancellor, against 39 percent who are opposed.

The two main CDU hopefuls for Merkel's job — state premier of North Rhine-Westphalia Armin Laschet and corporate lawyer Friedrich Merz — are far behind.

READ ALSO: Merkel successor hopefuls bid to bury her migration legacy

For months, the coronavirus crisis knocked the race to succeed Merkel at the head of the centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) out of the headlines.

Walking on the grounds of the Herrenchiemsee Palace. Photo: DPA

Now it is again heating up as infection numbers fall, the German economy eyes the beginnings of a recovery and elements of daily life return to normal.

But ahead of the vote by CDU delegates in December, none of their party's candidates has stood out during the pandemic.

Former favourite Laschet especially has stumbled too often in managing his state's response — starting with a March visit to a hospital in which he failed to cover his nose with a protective mask.

Since then, Laschet has suffered months of unfavourable comparisons with Söder, who took a tougher line on issues like lockdown restrictions.

Most recently, Laschet's state has suffered concentrated outbreaks in abattoirs — and he was again blasted for a lagging response.


While no CSU leader has ever won a bid for the chancellorship, the weekly Spiegel noted that Söder might benefit from support from CDU rank and file because of his time as leader of the conservative bloc's youth wing in Bavaria — which encompasses both parties.

Merkel refused to be drawn as journalists sought repeatedly to elicit a sign from her on Soeder's chance as leader of the bloc.

READ ALSO: Is Bavaria's leader on course to become Germany's next chancellor?

Nevertheless, tabloid-style Bild daily noted that “pictures against the backdrop of the splendid palace built by King Ludwig II and the shared boat ride with the chancellor are likely to strengthen this impression” that the Bavarian premier is now the “crown prince”.

For rolling news channel NTV, it was also clear that Tuesday's visit was elaborately “staged”.

“Both…are politicians who cultivate their public image very carefully, so they know what they are doing,” it noted.

At the very least, the visit “should shake up” the other candidates, NTV said.

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Sleep, seaside, potato soup: What will Merkel do next?

 After 16 years in charge of Europe's biggest economy, the first thing Angela Merkel wants to do when she retires from politics is take "a little nap". But what about after that?

Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel briefly closes her eyes and smiles at a 2018 press conference in Berlin.
Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel briefly closes her eyes at a 2018 press conference in Berlin. Aside from plans to take "a little nap" after retiring this week, she hasn't given much away about what she might do next. Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP

The veteran chancellor has been tight-lipped about what she will do after handing over the reins to her successor Olaf Scholz on December 8th.

During her four terms in office, 67-year-old Merkel was often described as the most powerful woman in the world — but she hinted recently that she will not miss being in charge.

“I will understand very quickly that all this is now someone else’s responsibility. And I think I’m going to like that situation a lot,” she said during a trip to Washington this summer.

Famous for her stamina and her ability to remain fresh after all-night meetings, Merkel once said she can store sleep like a camel stores water.

But when asked about her retirement in Washington, she replied: “Maybe I’ll try to read something, then my eyes will start to close because I’m tired, so I’ll take a little nap, and then we’ll see where I show up.”

READ ALSO: ‘Eternal’ chancellor: Germany’s Merkel to hand over power
READ ALSO: The Merkel-Raute: How a hand gesture became a brand

‘See what happens’
First elected as an MP in 1990, just after German reunification, Merkel recently suggested she had never had time to stop and reflect on what else she might like to do.

“I have never had a normal working day and… I have naturally stopped asking myself what interests me most outside politics,” she told an audience during a joint interview with Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

“As I have reached the age of 67, I don’t have an infinite amount of time left. This means that I want to think carefully about what I want to do in the next phase of my life,” she said.

“Do I want to write, do I want to speak, do I want to go hiking, do I want to stay at home, do I want to see the world? I’ve decided to just do nothing to begin with and see what happens.”

Merkel’s predecessors have not stayed quiet for long. Helmut Schmidt, who left the chancellery in 1982, became co-editor of the weekly newspaper Die Zeit and a popular commentator on political life.

Helmut Kohl set up his own consultancy firm and Gerhard Schroeder became a lobbyist, taking a controversial position as chairman of the board of the Russian oil giant Rosneft.

German writer David Safier has imagined a more eccentric future for Merkel, penning a crime novel called Miss Merkel: Mord in der Uckermark  that sees her tempted out of retirement to investigate a mysterious murder.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel forms her trademark hand gesture, the so-called “Merkel-Raute” (known in English as the Merkel rhombus, Merkel diamond or Triangle of Power). (Photo by Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP)

Planting vegetables
Merkel may wish to spend more time with her husband Joachim Sauer in Hohenwalde, near Templin in the former East Germany where she grew up, and where she has a holiday home that she retreats to when she’s weary.

Among the leisure activities she may undertake there is vegetable, and especially, potato planting, something that she once told Bunte magazine in an interview in 2013 that she enjoyed doing.

She is also known to be a fan of the volcanic island of D’Ischia, especially the remote seaside village of Sant’Angelo.

Merkel was captured on a smartphone video this week browsing the footwear in a Berlin sportswear store, leading to speculation that she may be planning something active.

Or the former scientist could embark on a speaking tour of the countless universities from Seoul to Tel Aviv that have awarded her honorary doctorates.

Merkel is set to receive a monthly pension of around 15,000 euros ($16,900) in her retirement, according to a calculation by the German Taxpayers’ Association.

But she has never been one for lavish spending, living in a fourth-floor apartment in Berlin and often doing her own grocery shopping.

In 2014, she even took Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to her favourite supermarket in Berlin after a bilateral meeting.

So perhaps she will simply spend some quiet nights in sipping her beloved white wine and whipping up the dish she once declared as her favourite, a “really good potato soup”.